The view out of the Kemper Building at 1 E. Wacker Drive is magnificent, sprawling out to an eagle’s view of the Chicago River and the Loop. But when Deanna Cairo Arthur, now an associate at Goldberg Weisman & Cairo Ltd., would visit her father’s office as a child, it wasn’t the window that drew her attention. It was a desk chair.
“I just remember being little and being in my dad’s office, sitting in his chair and always hoping someday it would be my chair,” she says.
Her father is Louis C. “Lou” Cairo, senior partner at Illinois’ largest personal injury firm. Along with her brother, Louis Anthony Cairo, who found out he passed the bar in March, Deanna is part of the next generation of Cairos in the legal profession.
“While I am very proud of being the boss’s daughter, it’s always been important for me to be my own person and sort of make my own name and be ‘Deanna Cairo’ versus ‘Louis Cairo’s daughter, Deanna Cairo,’” she says. “I think there were expectations, either people assumed we would fail or that we would just ride on our dad’s coattails.”
Even if coasting were an option at the firm — and it’s not — the younger Cairos have never taken advantage of that, their father proudly states.
“Usually when you look at a lawyer who works in a firm where their father is a managing partner or a senior partner or a big shot in the firm, they kind of come in and think they’re above the law, so to speak, and they don’t have to work as hard as the other associates, and they get special hours because daddy’s the boss and they can kind of take advantages, maybe talk to people in a little bit of a condescending tone when it’s not appropriate,” Lou Cairo says. “My kids have never done that.”
Even if coasting were an option at the firm — and it’s not, the younger Cairos have never taken advantage of that, their father proudly states.
Lou Cairo says his son and daughter embrace and practice the firm’s core values — hard work and respect for everyone involved in the process of helping injured clients.
“Everybody in this office, from the senior partners to the mail staff, get the same amount of respect from me and from my kids,” Lou Cairo says. “I would expect no less, and I would also allow no less.”
The two started as paralegals after college, at which point their father set the boundaries for how they should interact when he’s their boss and when he’s their father.
“I told them both exactly the same thing,” Lou Cairo says. “I said, ‘You’re my kid, so here’s the rule. You get to embarrass me or disrespect me one time, and then you’re fired.’”
Deanna Cairo planned to be an attorney all through high school and college, but was concerned after college that becoming a lawyer would mean the law becoming her life. She worked at the office as a paralegal for a few years before realizing that her childhood goal was still the correct one for her.
“I realized I don’t want to be the one just prepping the files, I wanted to be the one handling them,” she says. Lou Cairo is the son of a union construction company owner and the first in the family to go into law.
“My mother would say I had a quick tongue, my dad would say I was a smart mouth,” the elder Cairo recalls, laughing. “So they both told me when I was in grade school, ‘You should put that mouth to work. It’s going to get you into trouble. You become a lawyer, it’ll get you out of trouble.”
He started at the firm in 1981 when there were five lawyers and one secretary. Today, there are 113 employees, 40 of whom are lawyers. In his time, Cairo has worked in every facet of the firm, from the mailroom to becoming the first named partner who wasn’t a founder.
He wants the next generation of Cairos to work in all parts of the firm as well.
“I think for me, just kind of starting from the bottom, working my way, really goes to show it’s really one big unit and you need everybody moving on the same cylinder,” he says.
Deanna credits that philosophy — and her time as a paralegal — with making her a better attorney. She never wants to be a lawyer who doesn’t know how to write a request for records, for example, because that’s supposedly work that paralegals do.
“As a paralegal, you know you’re important and that the attorneys need you, but being the paralegal and becoming the attorney — the support staff are so valuable,” she says.
Her brother agrees. “It’s allowed me to understand the entire process,” Louis Anthony Cairo says. “I feel that some people who get thrown into a firm, it’s kind of a disservice to them because they don’t see how everything plays out.”
For the younger Louis Cairo, seeing his father in action helped set his path.
“I just remember being a little kid and always saying, ‘I want to grow up and do what my dad does because my dad gets to wear a suit and tie for a living,’” Louis Anthony Cairo says. “Now as I got older and graduated college, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I figured I was going to go into law or I was going to be an entrepreneur, go into sales, or do something. The real turning point for me was when I sat on, with my dad and Mike Fisher, another one of the partners here, a trial in Galena.
“For about a week, I was there with them, helped them out with all the technology and whatnot. I could not obviously do anything practicing-wise, but that was really what solidified me going into law. Seeing my dad work during a trial is amazing.”
That was in 2010. The behind- the-scenes look at the law — particularly a dramatic cross-examination where Lou Cairo made a witness admit to lying under oath — got the younger Cairo hooked. He started studying for the LSAT shortly after.
“It kind of sounds funny, but (the attraction was) all the work that no one really sees when someone just walks in on a trial, that a plaintiff’s attorney has to do — watching my dad do an opening, do a closing,” Louis Anthony Cairo says. “What really got me was the cross-examination. I just thought that was absolutely unreal, something I was chomping at the bit to do myself.”
He says sharing his father’s name inspires him to work harder, not coast.
“I don’t want to disappoint my father, but most importantly, I don’t want to disappoint myself,” he says. “I try and do a lot of things like my dad, and one of the things is definitely work ethic. There’s no one that has a work ethic like my father, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my father. I don’t know if there are too many partners in businesses that stay at the office until 9:30 at night even when he’s been a partner for over 20 years. I don’t know of too many people who do that.”
One of the best parts of the relationship — both as a boss and as a father — comes at the union functions the Cairos attend. People Lou Cairo has worked with for years say hello and then ask about the whereabouts of Deanna, “L2” or their sister Kristina, who did not go into law.
“Over 30 years, we’ve built the firm to where it’s at on all these relationships, the majority of which are union relationships,” Lou Cairo says, smiling. “These people are now walking past me to get to my kids to say hello, which bodes well for the future of the firm.”
— Paul Dailing
Reprinted with permission from LeadingLawyers. (leadinglawyers.com)